TIGA Expands Lobbying

16 07 2008

TIGA is expanding it’s efforts to lobby the UK government, with a tightly packed argument built around training and education. Game development studios have far more to offer the UK than exports, and there’s opportunity for the government to utilise this in developing a more highly skilled workforce.

It’s good to see TIGA making such specific recommendations rather than just demanding tax breaks. They’ve had a much better line in PR for the past few months, especially with the launch of Games Up?. The question mark makes the name clunky, and it doesn’t seem to have a website, but they’re certainly talking to the right people and making sure to get a varied message out regularly.

Not only that, but under Richard Wilson the organisation seems to be taking a very proactive and intelligent approach to supporting the industry. Hopefully, that will prove to be contagious.

(CC image of longhand mathematics by misterbisson)

E3: Retail Rituals

15 07 2008

E3 is now in full effect, which actually means reduced effect since it’s been shrinking for the past few years. So far, this quote is by far the most interesting thing:

“Science is a really powerful brand that no other entertainment property is trying to grab,” said Wright, after complaining that modern chemistry sets “are so nerfed that you could probably eat all the stuff and it wouldn’t make you feel sick”.

It is of course Will Wright talking about Spore, and he’s correct. Spore isn’t exactly going to teach hard science, but it’s based on extensive reading of it, and one of the first things in years to sex it up a little.

Will also claims that Spore now has more species than Earth, but that’s no doubt a bit of PR spin: while about 1.75 million species have been catalogued, estimates range from 5 – 30 million (source).

(Edit: Rock, Paper, Shotgun point to a video of Will’s talk. He spoke accurately on numbers of known species, but it was misreported as all species. The talk is well worth a watch, and only a few minutes long).

Announcements are starting to trickle out, with Nintendo upgrading the Wiimote, and Microsoft announcing avatars and an all round spruce up for XBox Live. Nothing seems to have come from Sony yet.

Most of the content from E3 each year seems a little tepid, yet the event itself has legendary status in the games industry, outside of any big announcements. Developers and journalists we’ve known have studied the event itself rather than the content, with the massive sensory overload leading Idle Thumbs to refer to it as “the balls kneeing robot”. That’s a pretty big contrast to GDC, which is still overwhelming, but the people there are very focused on the content and each other.

I think Tadhgk Kelly nails it at his blog:

It strikes me that if you’re going to do the conference thing then surely the thing to learn is some stagecraft? Don’t put the timid exec on stage if he’s not good in front of a crowd, for instance. Find someone to do it for you with confidence, even a celebrity if you have to. Don’t talk about how exciting things are: show how exciting they are. Don’t trot out lists of features as a replacement for content. In the end of the day, there are better ways to present this stuff but ultimately what it comes down to is charisma, and most of these people doing the conferences are no doubt very talented at their jobs but they comes across as nerds talking about their science project at the head of a bored class on a hot summer’s day. “Exciting!”

A lot of conferences have some pretty unsavoury characteristics, and that may just well be a consequence of gathering many people together in one location, but there are certainly a lot of tricks that game developers are missing when it comes to presentation.

(CC image: Willi_Hybrid)

Google: Lively

10 07 2008

Google have finally launched a virtual world. People have been talking about this since the first google maps mashups, Sketchup and again with Google Earth.

What’s there so far seems pretty high quality, there must be some fairly powerful content creation tools to allow users to generate many of the rooms on show (there’s already a Linden Lab one).

It works with individual rooms, somewhat like Metaplace, rather than a consistent world ala WoW, which will almost certainly give it a lower bandwidth and processing footprint than a typical MMO. Everyone better watch out… not just Linden Lab, but Sony, with PSHome and Virgin with A World Of My Own. A lot of these offerings seem very similar, but I expect Google’s advertising model could crunch right through the competition.

I’ll be interested to see how consistent worlds stack up against the polyphony that’ll be found in things like Lively and Metaplace. I suspect that consistent worlds that people can become really absorbed into will still be able to command subscription fees, while the more random offerings will lead people to expect them to be free or ad supported.

Everything in Lively seems rather stylised and consistent from room to room at the moment, and I do wonder if that will survive in the torrent of user generated content. Will siloing things in individual rooms lead to consistent styles emerging, or will general taste still make it look like Second Life?

(CC image of Lively by ialja)


9 07 2008

We’ve been boning up a little on Kangaroo, which is the working title of a video-on-demand player that will incorporate content from BBC Worldwide, Channel 4 and ITV (It’s slated to have the final name of “SeeSaw”).

It’s interesting in itself that three players with different business models and strategies are cooperating on a single VoD service, but the service itself will also allow different business models:

Users will be offered programming for free, rental and buy-to-own, with the intention that Kangaroo provides a “one-stop shop” for all BBC, ITV and Channel 4 content.

The most interesting thing we’ve found though is this blog post by Steve Bowbrick, positing that a referral to the competition commissioner, which has delayed it by six months, may in fact have saved it:

By then the entire market will have shifted again: just remember how different everything looked when Kangaroo was first discussed. Back then (almost exactly a year ago) VoD looked fairly simple: it was going to be a paid-for, walled garden kind of business with TV shows delivered in standalone applications, wrapped in heavy-duty DRM.

Now, led by the BBC’s second-generation streaming iPlayer, VoD looks very different: it’s free, it’s delivered in a browser and DRM is fading fast. The OFT’s decision has handed Kangaroo the opportunity to sit out the next six months of cock-ups and dead ends and time travel to a different context all together. Sure it’s risky (and costly) to sit on your hands for half a year in a fast moving business but the opportunity to watch the other early entrants tripping over their laces and going bust surely can’t be missed.

It’s a scary time for all kinds of media. A quote from the NESTA games industry event on Monday was “Innovation *is* the strategy now”, and this will surely lead to a very high failure rate accompanied by sudden scale changes (in both directions) for businesses. If that seems frightening, doing nothing is the one sure route to total failure.

Steve also points out that the OFT is unlikely to shut the service down, just specify necessary changes. The challenge was initiated by Sky, and its likely that any changes would mandate a degree of openness. So rather than being a standalone player…

It’ll be a platform to begin with. And it’ll probably be a tiered affair, with the investing partners’ shows featured at the top and the stuff from the great unwashed further down or out at the fringes.

There’s a lot more speculation from that point on, but:

a post-OFT Kangaroo looks like a whole different kind of place: Kangaroo 2.0? OpenKangaroo? Sky’s self-interested intervention might have a most unexpected result. It might turn Kangaroo from—let’s face it—a slightly desperate tactical response to the seething grassroots video revolution into a national asset: a focus for the UK’s creative community. The new Kangaroo might be a genuine British hub for the emerging layer of video creators occupying the space below the telly production indies who got their leg up from Channel 4 25 years ago. In fact, it might be ‘a Channel 4 for the rest to us’. I don’t know about you but I’m suddenly finding the prospect of an OFT referral much more interesting than I’d ever expected it could be. Fingers crossed.

Fingers crossed indeed.

(Creative Commons image by Unapower)

Rating System Fight Continues…

8 07 2008

The BBFC and PEGI continue to campaign against each other and for themselves, with the drumbeat of PR and anti-PR increasing in particular over the last week.

Today, at the Westminster briefing on the games industry, Margaret Hodge called for a “grown up” debate on the subject. It seems each has half of the solution: PEGI has a smoothly run back-end that’s scalable and already covers online and offline content. The BBFC has amazing “brand recognition”, with age rating symbols that have been emphatically drummed into the British psyche.

Since the games industry has cast the government as the miserly villain throughout the debate on tax breaks, it’s good to see a government representative sensibly warning the ratings bodies off a political conflict. The mudslinging is achieving nothing worthwhile and relegates a very important issue to the same territory as Microsoft and Sony execs regularly taking digs at each other in the industry press.

It shouldn’t be forgotten in the middle of this that the BBFC have often been in the corner of games, defending them against the more outlandish claims leveled at them. Hopefully the two can come to a resolution without either being unilaterally swept aside.

(CC image by lastyearsgirl_)

NESTA, Innovation In the Games Industry

8 07 2008

Yesterday I went to the NESTA Innovation and Growth in the Games Sector report launch. It was a good event in a well run venue.

The big news was that NESTA are launching a £450,000 fund to address the games industry skill shortage, and TIGA are using some of it to develop a social networking site specifically aimed at job sharing and job swapping, i.e. encouraging professionals from industries such as VFX and animation to join the games industry.

This would be a massive and significant boost to games industry skills, since the overlapping skillsets of such people have been pushed to an extremely high degree of technical competency by the film and television industries.

Rory Cellan-Jones from the BBC gave a good outsider view of the industry, saying that we need to exploit “star power”, we need games industry Alan Sugars and Richard Bransons to emerge. He also talked about the development of videogames news stories, which started out as panic-mongering social issues, but have recently become business stories. In particular, he cited the launch of GTA IV being treated as a cultural and economic event.

Obtaining figures on the industry is very difficult, he said (it’s true), going on to urge us to work towards a single trade body that would present a united front. Quote: “There are two at the moment, and most journalists haven’t heard of either”. Richard Wilson of TIGA later countered this to a certain extent by pointing out that, for instance, the UK chemical industry has over 20 trade bodies, so in comparison the games industry is not doing too badly.

Adam Gee also spoke about Channel 4’s approach to games and interactive, summing things up for traditional media quite pithily I thought: “We’re making a transition to public service broadcaster to public service network”. He also revealed that they’ve been working with Introversion.

I know quite a few people, in various industries, who are quite traditionally trained. They see the internet, user-generated content, crowdsourcing, etc. as a cataclysm, something that will sweep by them leaving only unemployment behind. There are plenty who see this kind of change as an opportunity though, and on that count the games industry seems quite split.

AAA studios look set to keep pumping out big-budget first person shooters, while many smaller companies are rushing in to exploit the opportunities presented by everything from MMOs to mobile and casual. It’s becoming a stereotype that big, traditional studios are lumbering dinosaurs baying under a descending meteor, but that’s not entirely true. Nonetheless, Rory Cellan-Jones’ presentation, along with the people I met there, hit home to me that in some respects right now there is more insight on games coming from people outside the industry than in, and even the latter tend to be from smaller companies you haven’t necessarily heard of. While that may seem gloomy, these people are extremely ahead of the curve compared to most from more established industries.

Plenty more quotes about the NESTA fund over at Develop.

(Image: Jetpack Brontosaurus, now in Alpha).

Blizzard Are Sly Dogs

4 07 2008

Archangel Tyrael, Diablo II

To promote the newly announced Diablo III, Blizzard have revealed a new pet for people in World of Warcraft. It’s a miniature Archangel Tyrael from Diablo II. Not only will he look cool floating about near players’ avatars, he’s going to be inciting the 11M+ WoW userbase to talk about Diablo III. Very clever bit of marketing there.